US presidential hopeful John Kerry has reaffirmed his support for abortion rights amid criticism from a senior Vatican cardinal over his stance.
Cardinal Arinze agreed Kerry should be denied communion for his views
Cardinal Francis Arinze told a Vatican news conference that pro-abortion Catholic politicians such as Mr Kerry were "not fit" to receive communion.
But, across the Atlantic, an unabashed Mr Kerry said women's rights "are just that: rights, not political weapons".
The clash has refuelled the fiery debate over abortion in the US.
Mr Kerry is set to become the Democrat candidate in November's US presidential elections.
Should he win, he would be the country's first Roman Catholic president since John F Kennedy in 1960.
US bishops have discretion in deciding who should receive communion, and several bishops, led by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis, have warned they will not give Mr Kerry communion.
Mr Kerry has what his anti-abortion opponents term a "perfect record" in voting for legislation that allows abortion, and has said he would nominate only Supreme Court justices who support abortion rights.
Kerry's opponents say he has a "perfect record" of voting for abortion rights
He has said he does not personally support abortion, but does believe in a woman's right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy.
Cardinal Arinze was asked if priests should deny communion to politicians who are unambiguously pro-abortion.
"Yes," he said, according to Reuters. "If the person should not receive it, then it should not be given. Objectively, the answer is there."
Speaking later to pro-abortion groups preparing for a big rally on the issue in Washington on Sunday, Mr Kerry he believed "that in the year 2004 we deserve a president
who understands that a stronger America is where women's rights are just that: rights, not political weapons to be used by politicians of this nation.
"We are going to have a change in leadership in this country to protect the right of choice," AP quoted him as saying.
Mr Kerry did not directly respond to Cardinal Arinze's comments.
Church and state
Mr Kerry's defenders have accused the Vatican of not understanding the separation of church and state.
"It is time for church leaders to acknowledge that the threat of denying the sacraments to Catholics who disagree with their positions has no basis in Church law," said Frances Kissling, president of the Washington-based Catholics for a Free Choice group.
"It is both bad politics and bad religion," she said.
But Judie Brown, president of the anti-abortion American Life League, said it was perfectly reasonable for the public to expect a politician's religion to influence their voting record.
"If you are elected to public office as a Catholic, then your fellow Catholics expect you to be Catholic," she told AP.
A spokesman for the Bush campaign denounced Mr Kerry's views on abortion as "outside the mainstream".
Members of the Bush administration - in particular US Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as Mr Bush himself - are the targets for abortion supporters set to march on Sunday, in what organisers are predicting will be a huge rally.
They assert Mr Bush is interfering in women's rights in a way that is "dangerous" to women's health.